Paul Dunne has not recorded a top-10 finish since April, but put himself in pole position for a second European Tour title thanks to seven birdies in an opening 64 to lead the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya.
The Wicklow player carded his lowest score in Europe since a closing 61 to win the British Masters last October. Dunne is a shot ahead of 2016 champion Thorbjorn Olesen, Justin Rose, and Pádraig Harrington, who is being heavily tipped to take the Ryder Cup 2020 captaincy.
Dunne didn’t get to play at the Ryder Cup in Paris in September but the 25-year-old was one of a number of players invited to Le Golf National in September, where Europe ran out convincing winners over the United States.
“I was there with Adrian Otaegui, Jorge Campillo and Lucas Bjerregaard,” said Dunne, whose brother David was the European team’s nutritionist. “I was only there on the Saturday but saw Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari against Tiger Woods (twice) which was pretty cool.”
With Harrington an odds-on favourite to be Europe’s captain in 2020, Dunne joked that he should be buying his compatriot a few dinners in the hope of a wild card, but admitted: “I think I’ve got a little ways to go to be a Ryder Cup player.
“I need to win more tournaments and I probably need to drive the ball better, more consistently.
“I picked up 20 yards of length this year, which turns my driving into an asset when I’m swinging it well. I just need to do it more consistently.”
Harrington admits another European Tour title would not change his golfing legacy, but joked: “Maybe winning a Ryder Cup as a captain, that might help.
“Winning another major, going from three to four, doesn’t really change much. Winning another tournament doesn’t, but I enjoy doing what I do. I don’t want to do anything else and I want to come out and win. In my head I believe I can go and deliver and do the stuff.”
Rose fired an eagle and four birdies in a flawless opening 65 at the Turkish Airlines Open to share second place. The 38-year-old is now a combined 44 under par for his nine rounds in the £5.4 million event, while he also won its precursor — an eight-man matchplay competition — in 2012.
Rose spent two weeks as world number one earlier this season after finishing second in the BMW Championship, but would love to get back to the summit in style with a second consecutive victory at the Regnum Carya resort in Antalya.
“It’s nice that there’s only one scenario,” Rose said. “It’s a pretty simple equation, I have to win to get back to number one, and that means I can just focus on playing good golf this week.
“All aspects of my game are working, I’m just trying to get them working together and those are the weeks where you tend to win.
“I didn’t drive it particularly well today but my iron play was good. I holed out for eagle (from 139 yards) on number four and made a birdie off the back of that so suddenly I was three under through five and never put myself in a position where I needed to chase.
“You have to be patient because sometimes you think you are the only guy missing putts and you see guys are already six or seven under, but we always say you just have to wait for your run.
“It was nice to sign off with a birdie on 18 because I was thinking that hole was pretty good to me last year.”